America Faces an Uncertain Future. Why is it Happening?

Having Donald Trump militarize America’s Independence Day, subjecting children and adults to, yes, concentration camps, and defy the courts are not events that can be easily ignored or overlooked.

 

However, firing climate change scientists or banning them to a Midwest gulag is a lot easier. So is rescinding food and drug safety regulations, rolling back health care protections for LGBTQ patients, foreclosing on working home owners, destroying public education, and compromising the country’s air, water, and wildlife.

 

There’s more, and it signals the Trump Administration’s dangerous, pro-profit, white supremacist politics, disrespect for the rule of law and the Constitution, and contempt for human rights.  Every day we draw closer to full-fledged fascism while the Democrats diddle, and most mainstream and cable media regurgitate premature political polling while allowing Trump to suck the oxygen out of the air waves.

 

Collective fatigue and self-preserving denial are understandable, but it’s time every one of us took serious notice of what is happening because a dangerously demented authoritarian, voted into office  - just as Adolf Hitler was - is getting away with murder (literally if you count the dead immigrants at the border) and no one seems able to stop him – not Congress, not the courts, and not the Constitution.

 

When I first considered writing this commentary, I thought about all the departmental travesties taking place, most without much notice. I began doing research, department by governmental department and that’s how I came upon troubling information at numerous government agencies. Here are just a few examples.

 

Thanks to an expose by MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow, I learned that a number of specialists working within a scientific group advising government for nearly sixty years on various issues, including defense and most recently climate change, were being fired. Scientists working on Department of Agriculture issues were given a month’s notice to decide if they would move their families to Kansas – where no facility for them to continue their work exists, or be fired. A short reprieve was issued for scientists working at the Department of Energy so that studies underway could conclude, but the future of the group’s 65 impressive scientists is unclear, even as it diversifies its client base. As the Washington Post pointed out, “Research is being decimated by the Trump team, especially when it comes to climate science and other research that doesn’t comport with the Trump agenda.”

 

Thanks also go to Rep. Katie Porter (D-CA) who called out Ben Carson for failing America’s working families at HUD.  Interviewed by NBC after her tough grilling of Carson in a Congressional committee hearing, Porter said, “I wanted to engage Carson on the critical issue [of foreclosures] but what I got was evasion. Carson’s two-plus years as the leader of HUD have been marked by failure after failure to do right by this country’s working families.” Porter continued, exposing Carson’s total lack of awareness of his agency’s jurisdiction, his claim that “poverty to a large extent is a state of mind,” and his proposal to to slash HUD’s budget.

 

The National Education Association exposed the horrific record of Betsy De Vos at the Department of Education, where promoting education privatization is a top priority while serving special needs and trans children is being rolled back. DeVos also wants to repeal federal protections that hold predatory for-profit colleges accountable, to rescind sexual assault guidelines, and to put guns in schools.

 

National Geographic posted “15 Ways the Trump Administration has changed environmental policies,” while The Guardian wrote about the “nosedive” the FDA is taking in warning people about food and drug regulations not being enforced, and Politico revealed how the Trump administration is rolling back health care protections for LGBTQ patients.

 

The more I learned, the more I realized how much is happening “under the radar” – an expression that sounded familiar. Looking back on my commentary topics over the last 18 months, I realized that I had twice written pieces with that phrase in the title. That made me question not what was happening, but why it was happening.

 

Here are a few possibilities. One is that many in the Fourth Estate are largely failing to demand and drive accountability. Given that the courts, federal and Supreme, are being stacked against democracy and sound Constitutional interpretation, it is urgent that media editors and producers “call a thing [like racism] a thing.” That means not normalizing a dangerously delusional president or treating him like an ordinary candidate in next year’s election.  It means asking tough questions and demanding answers. It means putting priority issues over advertisers.

 

Further, the Democratic Party must realize this is no time to pussyfoot. Its strong suite is plurality which must not become its pitfall.  Democrats need to unify, fight, respect boundaries, message wisely, and start saving America. Equally, entities and individuals inside and out of government must vociferously say “No!” when Trump breaks rules, bullies, and acts crazy.

 

Americans, no matter how tired or disillusioned, must demand leadership that recognizes the slippery slope of looming dark days -- because it’s not only about the economy, jobs and healthcare. It’s about our future and our survival as a democratic beacon to the world.

 

Perhaps yesterday may have been too early to act, but surely tomorrow will be too late.

 

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When Acceptance is Not a Virtue

“We should give him a chance.”  “Once he’s in office things may well change.” “America prides itself on ensuring a smooth, orderly transition.”

No! No, no, no!

You don't give plutocrats, oligarchs, or insipient fascists a chance. They don’t change when they win, they only grow bolder, tell more lies, expand and tighten control, find more enemies to attack. That’s why we must call them out every chance we get, right from the get-go!

It’s only mid-December as I write this commentary and there's already enough going on in the so-called presidential transition phase that speaks volumes about what's happening to our democracy, a system of government that is inherently fragile but which we’ve come to assume is immune to dangerous mutation or worse.

What will it take to stop the madness from overcoming us? Why are we being so passive in the face of impending disaster?

As a Facebook friend of mine posted recently, “What would be happening right now if Donald Trump had won more than three million more votes than Hillary Clinton, but Clinton prevailed in the Electoral College? Would he, his supporters, and prominent Republicans have said, “We don’t like the outcome, but that’s how the system works”? Of course not. They’d be screaming bloody murder, they’d be preparing articles of impeachment to file on the day Clinton was inaugurated, they’d be charging that the vote was stolen, they’d be filing lawsuits to overturn (not just recount) the results in every swing state, and Trump would be telling his supporters to use any means necessary to achieve justice.”

Let’s be clear then. It is not acceptable to ignore or diminish the potential impact of the greatest threat this country has ever faced. As Rob Reiner put it on a Sunday morning talk show, "We have a hostile foreign power that has invaded our country. This is enormous and the fact that people aren’t screaming about this, I don’t understand it.” Bombs didn’t fall, Reiner said. No buildings collapsed. “But this [Russian hack] is an invasion of that magnitude. Was Trump colluding with Russian agencies?”

It is not acceptable that the president-elect is threatening to end daily press briefings and to muzzle journalists who write things he doesn’t like. His Barbie-bimbo spokeswoman Kellyanne Conway went to far as to suggest pretty explicitly that there would be retaliation against naysayers.

It is also unacceptable for a president to own his own media company or to be a media executive, to fail to relinquish his business interests, to try to get around nepotism laws so that his children – who are supposedly going to run his not-so-blind trust – can serve as advisors. It should be unacceptable that he has never, and never will, reveal his taxes, or for that matter proper health records.

Speaking of media, it should be totally unacceptable that the mainstream media covered Hillary Clinton’s email server for months but barely touched upon the Russian hacks, or the misdeeds of the FBI director, until they could no longer be ignored. It’s appalling that they never held Donald Trump or his spokespeople’s feet to the fire, but gave him carte blanche when it came to his mass rallies (so reminiscent of those Mussolini like so much) while barely covering his opponent unless she was having a sick day.

It’s also not acceptable that the proposed Trump cabinet is mainly comprised of rich old white men who have no expertise in governance, and in some cases, have publicly vowed to eliminate the agencies they’re being tapped to run. These unqualified people have also denied such realities as climate change and have threatened programs and agencies designed to protect our environment, national parks, health care delivery as well as scientific research and public schools.

It should also be noted that Mr. Trump’s proposed cabinet has more religious bigots, and more generals, than at any other time in modern history. Conversely, it has fewer women or people of color than any administration in recent memory, and no hint of any LBGT or disabled representation.

There are many other commissions, or omissions, one can point to that make what is happening terrifying and unacceptable – among them the possible appointment of an ambassador to Israel who would undoubtedly lead to massive unrest and the growth of ISIS, if not outright war in the Mideast should he succeed in denying a two-state solution and expanding settlements.

This and many other potential disasters should remind us of Elie Wiesel’s idea that there should be an 11th commandment: “Thou shalt not stand idly by.”

So… are we going to practice acceptance until there is no longer a way out? Or are we up for some real organized resistance? For example, will we all identify as Muslim if they are forced to register? Are we prepared to launch national strikes, especially by government workers, teachers, and the like? Can women repeat the strategy of the Greek play, Lysistrata, and refuse to have sex if there is no abortion or birth control available? Do we really mean it when we say, "keep America strong!"

Did we really mean it after the Holocaust when we vowed, “Never again?”

The Archetypal Journey of Hillary Rodham Clinton

Like many other feminists, I tweeted and posted to Facebook at a furious pace after the second presidential debacle that was billed as a debate. “Whether Trump did or did not do what the infamous tape suggested – and I think we all know which is true – the act of celebrating sexual assault as male prerogative and patriarchal power is deplorable,” I wrote. I addressed Trump’s stalking, stuttering and snorting in lieu of substantively addressing policy issues, and I shared my astonishment at his having received good reviews while Hillary Clinton was judged to be off her game for maintaining a calm, polite, focused demeanor in spite of being stalked, verbally abused, threatened with imprisonment, and confronted with the sick stunt perpetrated by her opponent.

Then I read Rebecca Traister’s stunning analysis of the subtext of the debate in New York Magazine and realized how much more there was to consider. Traister, a smart feminist analyst and writer, talked about Donald Trump’s loathing for any woman who might defeat him, and his hideous ways of showing that hatred, including being verbally and physically threatening.  “The worldview that Trump affirmed over and over again, during decades in the public eye, is one in which women are show horses, sexual trophies, and baby machines, and therefore, their agency, consent and participation don’t matter,” she wrote.

Traister continued, condemning Republicans as “a party that has been covert in its cohesion around the very biases that Trump makes course and plain,” referring to their anti-woman legislative agenda, including its attempts to shut down Planned Parenthood and much worse in some states. She pointed out that Republican legislation aimed at disempowering women, and the Republican response to Trump’s gutter talk, reveals a “fundamental lack of recognition of women as full human beings,” not simply mothers, daughters and wives, as they insisted when disavowing their candidate. In the end, Traister said, the weapons of choice among misogynists for beating powerful women are humiliation, objectification, shaming and sexualization. That couldn’t have been made more explicit than by how Donald Trump behaved toward Hillary Clinton during the debate.

No sooner had I finished reading Traister’s compelling article when my daughter called to make another stunning point. “I think Hillary is on an archetypal journey,” she said. “She has to go into that dark place and emerge on the other side intact.”

It was a brilliant observation. Think about it. Women have traditionally been denied The Quest or journey to enlightenment. Locked in their castles birthing future kings, or in convents, where they spent the better part of their lives invisible beyond the cloister gardens, they were denied their hunger for a wider world, their intelligence and courage continually hidden from sight and declared non-existent or illegitimate. Almost the same can be said of women relegated to post-war suburban isolation even though they were, in many cases, well-educated. Many of them who dared to seek a larger role than wife and mother were quickly admonished to go home and make babies when they bravely sought careers.

Two of the most easily recognized female archetypes are the Nurturing Mother and the Temptress. The nurturing mother sustains the warrior on his journey, while the temptress tries to seduce him away from his quest through her sexuality. But now, in Hillary, we have a new female archetype – a warrior woman equal to, and in this case surpassing her male counterpart. She is a warrior capable of undertaking the quest, and emerging intact to win the Golden Fleece.

Another key element of the archetypal journal involves entering into and surviving the Underworld, often a dark cave.  Hillary Clinton has had to survive the darkest of caves in an underworld full of deranged men and incipient violence. A good many male warriors might have given up in comparable circumstances, but she persevered, intent on making it back to the light. Luckily, along the way she has had good Mentors to help her overcome the ever-present obstacles of the arduous journey she has undertaken.

Among the many symbols of the classic Archetypal Journey are mountains, water, serpents and rainbows. Hillary Clinton still has some murky waters to wade through, waters that are home to snakes continually lashing out at her. But when she finally gets to the other side of the river and ascends the mountain there is likely to be a rainbow of colors there. Many of us will be standing with her, relieved and hopeful once more, able to see the world as a place of safety and beauty again.

We will all be changed by the experience. Sometimes that’s all it takes to reach a more enlightened way of being.

 

Marching Toward Dystopia

Marching Toward Dystopia

 

It’s hard to believe, given Donald Trump’s constant and egregious lies, his frequent name-calling and hate speech, his puerile tongue lashings, his visible ineptitude, and his recent debate performance, that he can be viewed as a serious threat to Hillary Clinton’s election in November. Issues and behavior that would have brought down any other candidate, ranging from imitating a disabled reporter to insulting a Gold Star family to being involved in three serious lawsuits, to refusing to reveal his taxes or professional health reports should have stopped him long ago. So should his inability to discuss policy priorities with any depth and his pugilistic, pro-Putin posturing. Yet, here we are as I write this commentary, nail-biting our way through every new poll and prediction, scratching our heads about how this looming disaster could possibly be happening.

Whatever the inevitable political and psychological post-mortems reveal, one thing is frighteningly real: Donald Trump has exposed and unleashed the underbelly of American society, releasing into the ether rampant racism, virulent anti-Semitism, overt hatred of “the Other,” including Muslims, and frightening violence borne by those whose world view he represents - people so full of animus toward human beings who don’t look, think or act like themselves that Hillary Clinton was honest enough to call them “deplorable,” a descriptor verified by polls questioning any standard of decency among other Americans.

Noted political commentator Rebecca Traister saw trouble coming during the Republican convention. She wrote,” What we have seen … is the Republican Party offering its stage and its imprimatur to speakers who have not appeared reluctant or conflicted, but rather buoyed and energized by the way in which Trump’s candidacy has allowed them to come out as inciters of sexist, racist, violent mob action and xenophobic fearmongering. What’s more, by framing their hateful rhetoric in terms of patriotism, they are reminding us that much of the poison in this country runs deep.”

The kind of indecency and poison that Trump spawns and encourages is all too clear when his son says we should be “firing up the ovens.” It is clear when white supremacists pride themselves on finally being legitimate within the public arena while wearing white hoods and waving Nazi or confederate flags. It is more than clear when a 69-year old woman on oxygen is physically assaulted at a Trump rally by one of his supporters.  

The examples of hate-filled rhetoric and behavior among Trump supporters abound in social media, if not in most of the mainstream press, which has been woefully inadequate in its coverage of Trump’s mania. Even should he lose the election “the message of hatred and paranoia that is inciting millions of voters will outlast the messenger [and] the toxic effects of Trumpism will have to be addressed,” a New York Times editorial noted. Those effects include documented increases in bullying in schools and increases in anti-Semitic and other hate crimes. 

Analogies drawn between Trump and Hitler, considered in bad taste and reluctantly shared to make clear similarities in terms of their political strategies, may still be useful. To quote Robert Paxton, an authority on fascism, in Slate.com recently, “The use of ethnic stereotypes and exploitation of fear of foreigners is directly out of a fascist’s recipe book. ‘Making the country great again’ sounds exactly like the fascist movements. Concern about national decline was one of the most prominent emotional states evoked in fascist discourse, and Trump is using that full-blast, quite illegitimately … . That is a fascist stroke. An aggressive foreign policy to arrest the supposed decline [is] another one. Then, there’s a second level, [one] of style and technique. … [he is] like Mussolini … the bluster, the skill at sensing the mood of the crowd, the skillful use of media.” 

In light of the terrifying specter before us should Trump prevail, the challenge for those who understand how close we could be to a dystopian future is convincing people who don’t like Hillary that they have to vote for her anyway. I’ve tried and it’s not easy. Some of them don’t get that democracy resides in participation and that without voting they are colluding with a possible Trump win that could mean we enter into an inconceivable Draconian age. Some of them think he’s not as bad as the show he puts on. Some of them just don’t seem to care.

How did so many people whose very interests and futures are at stake become so apathetic and deluded? That is perhaps a question for another time.

Right now what matters urgently is that as many people as possible vote, which means that all of us experiencing cold sweats ratchet up the dialogue, knock on doors, argue with our right-leaning friends, do whatever it takes to shine light on what the options are: Either we vote smart and elect Hillary, or we dig in our heels and hope to survive years of dictatorial disaster. 

Want to know what that feels like? Ask anyone whose lived under Saddam Hussein, Assad, Romania’s Ceaușescu, and now Mr. Erdogan of Turkey.  It’s not a pretty picture. As Trump would say, “Believe me.”

                                                       

 

 

   

Days of Drought: A Landscape of Desperate Times

The photographs are difficult to see. Receded murky waters reveal river beds that resemble threadbare ancient shrouds. Earth once fertile lies cracked and brown like mosaics now devoid of their artful tiles, the missing grout leaving gaping. mazed striations.  In Thailand, India, African countries, even in Central America and Poland, the earth is browning, farmers are losing their livelihoods, thirst is taking hold, economies are struggling, political instability threatens. Societies are drying up.

In the wake of Donald Trump becoming the Republican nominee, and the terrifying prospect that he could actually become president, the dark days of drought seem like a stark, strange and alarming metaphor for the browning of America, a phrase meant to allude to the brown-shirted storm troopers of fascist Germany. 

Take a hard look at what’s going on in America. 

We are now a nation in which legislation has been proposed or passed that discriminates against the civil and human rights of immigrants, the LBGTI community, blacks, Hispanics, Muslims, and women. Some states have moved to legislate where you can pee, or people to whom you can deny services.

Some have moved to criminalize or deny abortion, even though it is still a constitutional right, and some have proposed or enacted laws that can put a woman in jail for murder if she suffers a miscarriage. That’s a Draconian measure reminiscent of Romania’s (assassinated) 1980s dictator,  Nicolae Ceaușescu, who forced women to undergo monthly pelvic exams to ensure that pregnancies were carried to term. (It resulted in huge numbers of children abandoned to orphanages so poorly run that development disabilities were rampant.)

Gun violence, police brutality and other forms of institutionally sanctioned killings take place every day in this country, while the sponsor-driven media seems to be stuck in its own brain-dead “brand.”

 In short, we are witnessing the drying up of a society once thought (somewhat erroneously) to be a democratic icon as it approaches its own demise. It’s a society, and a once-proudly diverse culture, that now appears to be devoid of the ability to govern, to engage in civil discourse, to show compassion or intelligence, and to behave respectfully, let alone humanely. We are, it seems to many, decidedly on the brink and facing a disintegrating future as Donald Trump continues to spew invectives and to reveal his utter incompetence as his poll numbers rise.

There are those who are loathe to compare Trump’s victory and possible presidency to Hitler’s totalitarian regime, but look at their similarities: Both ran campaigns grounded in fear-mongering based on hate, economic frailty and stereotyped, scapegoated minorities, both were anti-woman (Hitler believed women’s national loyalty resided in bearing as many babies as possible), both fostered incipient violence, and both were authoritarian and dangerously devoid of reason.

There’s another comparison that some have called upon to sound a note of caution and that is the fall of the Roman Empire.  Scholars point out that the causes of the Empire’sdownfall included an antagonistic relationship between the Senate (their Congress) and the Emperor (President), rampant political corruption, heavy military spending, a failing economy, and a decline in ethics and values. It is also be worth mentioning that slave labor (income inequality) was a factor, as were natural disasters (like drought).  As one source put it, “Life became cheap … and judgments about what was valuable or important in life declined. There was a total disregard for human and animal life.”

As I was mulling this commentary over in my mind, I happened to read a sentence in a clever, somewhat bizarre novel call The Wallcreeper by Nell Zink. It’s a riff on everything from politics and social activism to sex, marriage and the quest for a meaningful life. The sentence that jumped out at me read:  “The injustice of mortal existence cried out with greed for euphoria.”  It was followed by, “Delicacy had no place in [his] world.”

Donald Trump is playing on people’s desperation for euphoria, it seems to me. But delicacy has no place in his world. Neither do facts, fair play, intelligence, good judgment or any of the other critical attributes required for sound, safe, humane leadership. 

Those attributes are like tributaries that flow into a flourishing river. When they go dry, so does the river that carries our commerce, feeds our fields, quenches our thirst, and keeps us civilized.  America simply cannot allow the river to become dry. Our future depends upon the metaphorical waters that give life, today and for a long time to come.

That’s why Donald Trump must not win in November.

A Frightening Move to the Right in the US and Elsewhere

Anyone who saw Donald Trump asking for a Hitler-like salute to accompany a vote pledge from his supporters, or watched an angry follower elbow-punch a protester in the face, should realize that if he were to take the White House, we would all be in deep trouble. Trump’s behavior, ideas and political rants are outrageous and alarming.

But make no mistake: we’d be in trouble if any Republican candidate were to win the election. Trump’s opponents espouse much of the same policy claptrap when pressed; they just use softer language and forego violently throwing protesters out of the room with the Stalinist vigor of the frontrunner. The party of the right has helped fuel the escalation in violence and vitriol we are experiencing. They’ve done nothing to put a lid on what’s happening and they continue to support Trump in the election. They have never disavowed his accusations about the President’s birthplace. They’ve refused to pass legislation the president proposes and they have never treated Mr. Obama with respect.

Even more worrying than the fascist machinations of the authoritarian Republican poll leader is the numbers of people flocking to his events cheering on his stereotypical scapegoating.  The hate inherent in Trump supporters is a scary reminder that a lot of Americans stand on shaky ground.

We are not alone in the fact that about half our population is dangerously right wing.

Recently Spain’s conservative government strengthened laws originally aimed at controlling separatists. The laws resulted in the arrest of puppeteers who used a political play on words at a Carnival show and the prosecution of a musician and a poet whose work suggested criticism of the government, all in the name of fighting terrorism. Maximum prison sentences for such infractions have been increased and a new “gag law” penalizes unauthorized public demonstrations.

Even before the Paris attacks in November last year France reinforced a similar gag law to punishes statements deemed to be inciting terrorism. Since the attacks on Charlie Hebdo, French authorities have moved to enforce the law and have been accused of rushing to convict people who may have spoken provocatively outside the realm of terrorism.

Other European nations, both east and west, have also enacting broad and troubling laws, some aimed at maintaining a leader’s control, others at limiting political speech as fears of Islamic extremism rise. Germany, for example, is showing serious signs of moving right in view of the Merkel government’s welcoming of refugees.

In Turkey, the Erdogan government recently seized the largest circulation newspaper in the country which had been critical of his leadership. Within 48 hours it was publishing pro-Erdogan propaganda. In shutting down the press police acted after a court in Istanbul placed the paper under the administration of selected Trustees without explanation. The editor of the paper was fired and Turkish sources reported that the paper’s online archive was being eradicated. This action is just the latest move by the authoritarian Erdogan, who has imprisoned critics, jailed journalists, and gone back to war with the Kurds. Oh, and it’s now illegal to insult Mr. Erdogan. Nearly 2,000 cases for that crime were filed over the last year and a half.

The New York Times, in reporting events in Turkey, noted that “it is unsettling that the US and Europe have responded so meekly to Mr. Erdogan’s trampling of a free press.” It’s also unsettling that EU countries are not willing to bear any responsibility for trapped refugees. The challenges of resettlement are huge, of course, but part of the reason no country wants to help the teaming masses is an almost hysterical fear of terrorism, which seems to have trumped (no pun intended) human rights and compassion.

In Poland, the ultra-conservative government has cleared the way for hard line legal changes, including a likely total ban on abortion and further curbs on gender and human rights. Their constitutional tribunal, the country’s highest legislative court, is losing its independence thanks to the Law and Justice Party’s win last year – a Party aligned with hostility toward migrants.

Meanwhile, Israel continues its trek right. A Pew Research Center report issued in March found that almost half of all Israeli Jews want to see the transfer or expulsion of the country’s Palestinian population. For the past decade or more racist ideas have gained power in Israel, scholars point out, powered by ultra-Orthodox rabbis and other fundamentalists. This attitude has led to attacks on Palestinians as well as women and gay activists, some of which have resulted in barely punished homicides. And still the illegal building of settlements continues, basically assuring that a two-state solution can never prevail.

As we grapple with our current political landscape as well as the debate over First Amendment rights vs. national security spawned by Apple’s refusal to unlock a terrorist’s iPhone, we need to be mindful of the full picture, and the real threats, surrounding civil rights here and elsewhere. Never has it been truer that “no man [or country] is an island.” The shift right in so many countries, possibly including ours, is perhaps the most important issue we will be forced to grapple with in coming days. Let’s not think, as many Germans did, “It could never happen here.”  It could. And it well might if we are not both vigilant and smart.